LGBT press must play watchdog role, panel says

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By Dennis Mitchell
NLGJA Reporter Staff Writer

MIAMI BEACH – The gay press must be watchdogs of the LGBT community, according to panel members in yesterday’s LGBT Media Summit discussion entitled “Gays Behaving Badly.”

The panelists made it clear that the LGBT community deserve no special treatment from their press.

“The same rules apply whether you are gay or not gay,” said Chris Crain, editorial director of Window Media LLC, a publisher of LGBT newspapers nationwide. “We don’t owe gay people special scrutiny. If the gay press is not playing a watchdog role to the gay community and gay organizations, then no one is.”

Nearly 40 people attended the panel that discussed how and when LGBT media should cover touchy subjects ranging from sex scandals and drug abuse to gay divorces and coming out.

Jerry Jones, publisher of Nashville-based Out & About Newspaper, agreed with Crain, but added that it can be hard to be a watchdog in a small community.

“In smaller cities, things become personal very fast,” he said. “It’s difficult for a small paper to walk a line like that.”

Even with the added problems of reporting in a small community, Jones said, readers will eventually realize the importance of the watchdog role and will respect the paper.

Crain went further and discussed how LGBT press can make decisions on what issues should be reported.

“It’s a judgment call … whether the degree of invading privacy outweighs the story’s newsworthiness,” Crain said. He added that a reporter usually crosses the line when professional jealousy appears in the story. When reporting a controversial issue where personal reputation is at stake, he recommends that journalists “report the facts and let the people say whether something is bad or not.” 

According to freelance journalist JoSelle Vanderhooft, whose work is published in many smaller-market LGBT publications, training is the key to honest and accurate reporting.

“If people could access some of the training, then some of the problems would clear up,” she said. She added that many of the reporters from smaller publications tend to have little or no formal training.

Jones talked about training more bluntly than Vanderhooft, saying that there are not many formally trained journalists in the gay press in general.

“We need to take a serious look at ourselves,” he said. “Journalists with no training need to have training.”

Most of the crowd seemed to agree with the panelists’ points.

“Matthew Bajko, assistant editor of the Bay Area Reporter, said, ‘We’re not cheerleaders for the gay community – we’re a gay newspaper. This is a good panel because sometimes I get asked and criticized about what we do [as gay journalists].”]

He thought that the session also provided good information for newer publications that might be facing a backlash from the LGBT community for covering controversial issues
“It’s good to know that we’re not the only ones,” he said.